Kathmandu, August 15
Stakeholders have criticised the government for neither resuming regular flights nor continuing chartered flights.
Although the government had announced resumption of regular flights from August 17, it postponed the plan to September 1 citing the increasing threat of COVID-19 pandemic. Starting from June 10, around 600 chartered flights have been conducted till date and from August 17 the fifth phase of repatriation flights will begin.
“It seems a few travel agencies have influenced the government’s decision,” said Achyut Guragain, president of Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents, adding, “The government is looting migrant workers in the name of repatriation flights.” According to him, there were initially around four travel agencies that were ticketing for repatriation flights and charging exorbitant fares.
However, after the government came in for criticism over the airfares charged from migrants, it directed airline companies to reduce the fares.
“It was a different situation in the initial phase of repatriation flights, but with the government issuing labour permits now and a large number of Nepalis waiting to return to their work destinations, we have requested the government to allow all travel agencies to book tickets,” Guragain said. “If the government allows workers to go back then passengers will have to pay for one-way ticket only.”
He said chartered flights were a financial burden on workers. “Those who lost their jobs and earned nothing in the last three or four months now have to pay double the normal fare to return home,” he added.
Meanwhile, Rameshwor Thapa, president of Airline Operators Association Nepal, argued that most countries had resumed flight operations with necessary health safety measures in place, so there was no point in halting flight operations in Nepal. “As air travellers have to undergo medical check-up there is no point in just conducting chartered flights. Regular flights should also be permitted,” he mentioned.
Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane, joint secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, said they were only following the Cabinet’s direction. “It was the Cabinet’s decision to postpone resumption of regular flights and continue with repatriation flights,” he said, adding, “Evacuating stranded Nepalis is more important. That’s why we are focusing on repatriation.”
Meanwhile, Mahendra Prasad Guragain, coordinator of the COVID-19 Crisis Management Centre, said even though regular flights would start, the number of flight would be limited and airline companies would definitely charge extra airfare. “It is reported that regular flights will be equally expensive and as the government is focusing on migrant workers at the moment, chartered flights will be operated,” he stated.
Based on the aviation rule of increasing airfare when the demand is high, regular flights also will be expensive for passengers, he added.
So far, a total of 51,441 Nepalis have returned home via repatriation flights. During the fifth phase of repatriation flights, 43 flights will be conducted.
Among them, Nepal Airlines Corporation will conduct 17 flights, Himalaya Airlines 15 flights and foreign airline companies will operate 11 flights.
A version of this article appears in e-paper on August 16, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.